Dammit, I was hoping for Drago or Gunn instead. Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson, and Academy Award nominee Sylvester Stallone star in Creed.

CreedCast of Characters:
Adonis Johnson Creed – Michael B. Jordan
Rocky Balboa – Sylvester Stallone
Bianca – Tessa Thompson
Mary Anne Creed – Phylicia Rashad
“Pretty” Ricky Conlon – Tony Bellew
Tommy Holiday – Graham McTavish

Director – Ryan Coogler
Screenplay – Ryan Coogler & Aaron Covington
Based on characters created by Sylvester Stallone
Producer – Robert Chartoff, Irwin Winkler, Sylvester Stallone, Kevin King-Templeton, William Chartoff, Charles Winkler & David Winkler
Rated PG-13 for violence, language and some sensuality

Adonis “Donnie” Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) has just walked away from a comfy position at a securities firm to pursue his lifelong dream of becoming a professional boxer, a career choice his mother Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad) vehemently opposes. See, Donnie’s dad was none other than former heavyweight champion Apollo Creed, who had Donnie through an extramarital affair prior to his death. Mary Anne still remembers quite well the tragic toll boxing took on her former husband, so to see her son follow the same path is too much for her.

After being turned down by an elite L.A. boxing academy, Donnie ventures out to Philadelphia to get in touch with his dad’s former rival and friend Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) about training him. After hearing Donnie’s request, Rocky, worn down by the wear and tear from the ring and the loss of his loved ones Adrian and Paulie, respectfully declines, but after noticing the fight in the kid, and also seeing very much of his own father, and even a little bit of himself in him, he agrees to become his trainer.

Even with a star on the rise in Michael B. Jordan and a director to look out for in Ryan Coogler attached to the Rocky spin-off Creed, I probably wouldn’t have had much interest in the film if it wasn’t for Rocky Balboa being as good as it was. Stallone himself reportedly hadn’t much interest in returning to his franchise baby either when approached by Coogler about a spin-off revolving around Apollo Creed’s son, that is until Coogler’s indie drama Fruitvale Station changed his mind.

Though the baton’s being passed to a new character, Adonis Creed, this is still technically the seventh installment of the Rocky series, and for an up-and-coming director like Coogler, getting handed the keys to a franchise that’s been around for nearly four decades can be quite a daunting task. We’ve seen two similar examples earlier this year with Colin Trevorrow comfortably transitioning from his indie sleeper Safety Not Guaranteed to Jurassic World, and conversely, Josh Trank going from Chronicle to dropping the ball in horrifying fashion with his turd-fest The Fantastic Four. Coogler does this franchise proud, though, creating a compelling, character-focused entry that fits right in with the best Rocky films.

While Coogler and his writing partner Aaron Covington revisit the history of the past films, they aren’t content to let Creed rest on Rocky’s laurels. The past is certainly recognized, and of course Rocky Balboa is more than just a footnote here, but this is Creed’s film, and aside from a rocky (pardon the pun) start that glosses over whatever motivations he might have for just up and leaving a comfy job to box (his mother’s motivations for him not to are much more defined in just one scene), he soon becomes just as compelling a character as Rocky was in Rocky, Rocky II and Rocky Balboa.

From a style point of view, save one montage with motor bikes that comes off a little goofy, Coogler doesn’t disappoint. Cinematographer Maryse Alberti (The Wrestler, The Visit) paints a gritty portrait of Philadelphia that comes alive with a fantastic sense of place the moment Adonis sets foot in the city. The matches are choreographed with great style and energy, with one standout highlight being Creed’s first match which is beautifully shot in one take. The way Alberti’s camera movies in and out and around the fighters without a single cut is nothing short of spectacular.

Between what he brings to this film and what he previously brought to his terrific little film Fruitvale Station, Ryan Coogler is a definitely a filmmaker to keep an eye out for.

Following his star-making turns in Chronicle and Fruitvale Station, Michael B. Jordan hit a two-film snag with the awful comedy That Awkward Moment and the awfuller The Fantastic Four. Never mind those two trainwrecks, though, ’cause his performance here as the title character erases both of those career step-backs. Even with what issues there are with Donnie’s introductory motivations (that’s more on Coogler and Covington than Jordan), once the story finds it footing and Creed is firmly established, Jordon puts on quite a show, perfectly capturing the anger, pain, drive and need to prove that he can pave his own way without piggybacking on his dad’s name.

When Donnie isn’t beating a punching bag to death, he’s spending time courting his own “Adrian”, Bianca, performed wonderfully by Tessa Thompson. Phylicia Rashad, the artist formerly known as Clair Huxtable, delivers fine work in a handful of scenes as Adonis’s adoptive mother. Real-life professional boxer Tony Bellew makes for a formidable antagonist as the uber-cocky heavyweight champ “Pretty” Ricky Conlan.

And then there’s Stallone, who as I said before, is more than just a supporting player in this film, though he wisely never tries to upstage Jordan either. Say what you will about all the bad films Stallone has done throughout his career, the three best Rocky films, First Blood and the underrated Cop Land are proof enough that he can deliver a great performance. Like Rocky Balboa, the former heavyweight champ is put through an emotional ringer of an arc that deepens the character. Balboa’s days as the underdog champ are long behind him, and both age and the loss of those close to him have taken its toll on him. Now in the shoes once filled by Mickey Goldmill, Stallone’s required to dig deep into his definitive role and does exactly that in an emotionally honest, heart-and-soul bearing performance that’s the best work he’s done since Rocky.

While I won’t go as far as to say he’s a lock, in the event Stallone’s name gets thrown in one of the five slots for Best Supporting Actor next year, I won’t be surprised. It really wouldn’t be that much of a long shot, even with films like Over the Top and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot under his belt. He has been nominated before.

Like every single boxing film that’s ever existed, you see one, you’ve seen ’em all, but genre familiarity aside, Creed brings the Rocky franchise back into the ring for another exciting round and like the best of the series, delivers a knockout punch of heart, emotion, well-drawn characters and, of course, thrilling matches. Despite some bumps and bruises along the series path, this seventh entry proves the enduring franchise still has plenty of fight left in it.

I give Creed an A- (★★★½).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *